“We don’t even know what happened. I’m not going to lie to you and say we do.”
That’s what Dwyane Wade said after his Heat made an improbable comeback to stun the Bulls and earn a trip to the NBA Finals. I don’t know what happened, either.
Well, I do and I don’t, I guess.
In a big picture sort of way, I get it. I understand that:
1) The Bulls lost to a team with two legit superstars and another All-Star caliber player, and
2) Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have more experience in big games than Derrick Rose.
Regarding point number one, Miami’s big three scored all 26 of their team’s fourth quarter points. Going back to the final two minutes of the third, that trio scored the Heat’s final 33 points of the game.
Meanwhile, two of Chicago’s big three — Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah — spent the fourth quarter shining the bench with their butts. Boozer is a defensive liability who wasn’t scoring (1-for-6). Noah is an offensive liability who was enabling the Heat to clog the paint and contest the passing lanes. When two of your (in theory) top three players can’t be trusted in winning time, there may be a fundamental flaw in how your team is structured.
Still, when Ronnie Brewer went 1-for-2 at the line with 3:12, the Bulls were up by 12 points (77-65) and looked like a mortal lock to force Game 6.
That brings us to point number two.
Only 12 seconds after Brewer’s freebie, Dwyane Wade — who at that point was 3-for-10 and had committed a career playoff-high 9 turnovers — hit a short jumper. Then, 22 seconds later, Wade stole a bad pass by Rose and went the other way for a crazy running layup while drawing a foul on Rose. Wade missed the foul shot, but you could sense the Bulls were getting a case of the yips.
To be completely honest, the Bulls built that 12-point lead by being aggressive. Once there, however, they started playing against the clock instead of the Heat. I’m not sure whether this was by coach Tom Thibodeau’s design or because the players were overwhelmed, but the Bulls started running time rather than running plays.
And it cost them dearly.
About 30 seconds after Wade’s layup — and following a missed jumper by Taj Gibson — LeBron drilled a tough three-pointer (on an assist from Wade) to cut the lead to five (77-72). Thibs called timeout. Rose finally responded by taking it right at James and floating in a shot.
On Miami’s next possession, Wade nailed a three (on an assist from LeBron) while being fouled by Rose. To me, it sure looked like Wade swung his legs forward while shooting in order to draw the contact, but whatever. The call was made and Wade hit both the shot and the ensuing free throw for a rare four-point play.
Chicago’s lead was now down to three (79-76).
After running a full 23 seconds off the clock, Rose was forced to take another contested shot. He missed. Seven seconds later, LeBron tied the game with a step-back three.
It was contested.
It was — to be completely fair and honest — a bad shot.
But it went in.
This is where I point out that Miami started 3-for-12 from downtown…then James and Wade went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in less than a minute.
Thibs called another timeout and presumably drew up a play. I say “presumably” because the Bulls only had the ball for about eight seconds before Rose had another pass stolen, this time by LeBron, who went on to hit a 21-footer to put the Heat up 81-79.
Remember: The Bulls wanted to force James and Wade to shoot jump shots.
That was the plan.
Neither man has ever been a high percentage three-point shooter. Neither one of them is or ever has been a lights out shooter from long range. And yet, there they were, gunning the Bulls down with cold-blooded jumpers.
Thibs called his final timeout. Rose responded by going right at LeBron again and drawing a foul. With the season on the line, Derrick hit the first free throw…and missed the second.
Miami got the rebound. Keith Bogans was forced to foul Chris Bosh. (Yes, Bogans saw more time in the fourth than Boozer and Noah.) Bosh converted both freebies. And then the Bulls season ended as they were unable to create an open look and James stuffed Rose’s desperation three at the buzzer.
This was a schooling, with Rose learning the painful lessons that James and Wade have learned before him. Wade has won a title, after all, and he was the Finals MVP of that championship series. LeBron has been to the Finals and endured bitter playoff losses for teams that had the league’s best record and were favored to win.
Points one and two. The Heat had more firepower — read that, more star power — and James and Wade have learned more about closing games in their eight seasons than Rose has learned in his three.
And, let’s face it, James and Wade hit shots down the stretch they don’t make with regularity.
Said Kurt Thomas: “They hit some tough shots, step-back 3s, runners, you can’t take anything away from them. They know how to put the ball in the hole and they showed it. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that. It seemed like they just hit one big shot after another. I thought we had a nice lead there, and it just slipped away. We let a golden opportunity get away.”
Added Brewer: “We wanted [James] to take contested 2s, contested 3s. I guess you have to limit him but he stepped up and he willed his team to victory.”
On the other side there was Rose, the regular season MVP, whose will was broken. Remember, Rose missed a free throw that would have won Game 4 in regulation. He also missed a free throw that would have tied this game in the final half minute. And then there were the critical turnovers in both games.
It may be fair to suggest Rose was fatigued. After all, he played every single minute in the second halves of Games 4 and 5. He might have benefitted from a minute or two of rest. We’ll never know if that’s true, just as we’ll never know exactly why Thibodeau didn’t give him that rest.
All we know for sure is that the Bulls had leads or a tie in the fourth quarter of three of their four losses but couldn’t close any of those games.
Said Rose: “At the end, it’s on me. Everything is on me. Turnovers, missed shots. Learn from it, that’s all I can do.”
It’s very noble of Rose to take all the blame. However, he’s only partially correct. It’s only “all on him” in the eyes of various critics and naysayers who are dogpiling on him now that the Bulls have lost. I’m sure that, to people who thought he didn’t deserve the MVP, this is proof positive.
It’s no more proof of that than LeBron’s playoff flameouts during his two MVP seasons proved he shouldn’t have won the award. The regular season MVP hasn’t won a title since Tim Duncan did it in 2003.
The reality is, the blame can be spread around. Rose missed shots and made mistakes. Thibodeau’s substitution pattern got out of whack and, at times, he looked very much like the rookie head coach he is. Boozer and Noah lost Thibodeau’s trust down the stretch because they are incomplete players. The offense both needs some work and is missing at least a piece or two, which are points the coaching staff and management absolutely must address in the offseason.
Assuming the goal is winning a championship.
It’s not all darkness and disaster, though.
The Bulls truly could have won every game they lost in this series. They were very, very close. In many ways, the Heat beat them by beating the odds. For instance, LeBron is a 74 percent free throw shooter for his career. He went 38-for-44 (86 percent) in this series and knocked down 32 straight between Games 3 and 5. James is also a 32 percent career three-point shooter, but he went 2-for-2 on two of the toughest threes a player could take.
There was Udonis Haslem’s big Game 2.
Chris Bosh’s career night in Game 3.
Mike Miller’s dead-eye fourth quarter shooting and career-high 9 rebounds in Game 4.
And then the James and Wade last-three-minutes bonanza in Game 5.
Think about it.
What were the chances all those things would happen in back-to-back-to-back-to-back games?
I mean seriously.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, in 10,000 simulations done by Accuscore.com, the Heat had just a 1 percent chance of winning the game with 3:14 remaining.
The Bulls were close. Just one or two tweaks and a little experience away.
They got the experience last night.